New North Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson has resolved to do all in his power to convince unsigned forward Cam Zurhaar and contracted young guns Jason Horne-Francis and Tarryn Thomas that their long-term futures belong at Arden St.
It comes as Clarkson dismissed criticism from Kane Cornes that he doesn’t rate the draft, saying the claims were the work of “shock jocks who haven’t done their research”.
The four-time premiership coach, who last week repelled a late bid from Essendon to lock into a five-year deal with the Kangaroos, stressed the club will use all player movement levers to kickstart the journey back up the ladder again.
He has already met with 2022 skipper Jack Ziebell, and co-vice captains Jy Simpkin and Luke McDonald, since last Friday’s momentous appointment.
But while Clarkson won’t address the entire playing group until he officially starts on November 1, he plans to chat informally to several players to highlight the club’s exciting vision for the future.
“I will speak to some of them, but it will all be pretty informal, and we’ll roll the sleeves up when they get back in November,” Clarkson told the Herald Sun on Tuesday.
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Zurhaar, who put contract talks on hold months ago amid strong interest from Essendon, is almost certain to be one of those Clarkson chats to in the coming weeks.
He will also likely speak with last year’s No.1 draft pick Horne-Francis and Thomas, who both endured difficult seasons for different reasons.
Horne-Francis is contracted next year but has so far resisted the club’s desire to re-sign him for longer, with interest coming from his home state of South Australia.
Thomas signed a new two-year deal at the start of this year, but he managed only 10 games as he struggled personally following the loss of his grandmother.
“All three of those lads have shown they have got significant talent and should be part of this vision for where we want to take the club,” Clarkson said.
“If we lose any of them, in essence, it is going to be harder to get on our journey quicker.
“I want to keep all three of them (long-term). If all three of those go to the open market, there are 17 clubs that are saying ‘we want them’.
“We’ve got the opportunity to keep them at North Melbourne. If we can galvanise them and make sure their talents can assist the group of others on and off the field all forging in the one direction, they can have a special role to play in this footy club.”
He could understand the frustrations Horne-Francis showed at times this year, saying it highlighted how much he and others wanted to win.
“I just see these guys as being proud young men,” he said.
“I’ve been in these situations before. They want to be the very best they can be.
“In Tarryn’s situation, he had some things going on in his life. It is a good reminder that sometimes what goes on in life is much more important than what happens in a footy club.”
Clarkson will have access to the first No.1 national draft pick as a senior coach, with the Kangaroos also lobbying the AFL for priority pick access, with a decision on that likely to come at the end of September.
He hit back at suggestions from Kane Cornes who said on Footy Classified on Monday that the coach “didn’t rate” the national draft.
“It is just an easy line that they can throw out there,” he said of Cornes’ comments. “They just haven’t done their research foolishly.
“Go back to the whole 17 years (at Hawthorn), go back to the start, go back to what we did in the middle, and then go back to what we did at the end.
“Sometimes you just laugh (at the comments). They are just shock jocks who need to make an impression.”
Clarkson has already confirmed interest in St Kilda’s Brad Hill as he looks to add greater experience to the young Kangaroos group.
He said he was “getting closer” in his efforts to convince Todd Viney to join him at Arden St, while stressing he and the club were still working out how the coaching and football department structure might work.
“We will try to use all mechanisms,” he said of the chase for more experience.
“Finishing on the bottom of the ladder with two wins may not be an attractive proposition for many out there, but if they see the vision of where we are going, they will know that this has been done before by many clubs.”